Samajwadi Party and the opposition did well enough in Uttar Pradesh but must act on lessons learnt
The Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh and its allies have polled 38% of the votes but BSP's 12% votes upset its calculations
The results are out and BJP is back with a thumping majority in Uttar Pradesh. Is it then time for an apology by analysts who apparently failed to read the ground reality? Or is it time to learn new lessons?
I must acknowledge that as a journalist on the ground, I failed to see or read any big wave coming in favour of the ruling party. There were no signs of voters getting polarised on religious lines or of reverse polarization. People were raising basic questions, were outspoken about the failures of the government and vocal on inflation, unemployment and mismanagement during the pandemic.
The fact remains that despite the discontent on the ground, BJP received more than 41% votes while its allies too polled around 4% votes more. BJP managed to add more votes to its kitty than 2017 when it secured a 39.67% vote share in the state.
Before the exit polls were released on 07 March, few journalists on the ground were predicting a majority for the BJP. For me, it looked like there was an edge for the Samajwadi alliance. While people in western UP were agitated for farming related issues, middle class families had reservations about BJP's ability to govern.
But when the results came out, trolls and even non-BJP supporters began to demand that political analysts who wrote about discontent on the ground must apologise. It was as if BJP had won because of the analysts' ground reports. I for one stand by my assessments. Most of the constituencies I visited or reported on have gone to the SP alliance and to that extent I stand vindicated. But I accept my inability to read the undercurrents in the state.
What is amazing however are the claims being made about UP after the results came out. Their assessment that the opposition in UP was decimated is wrong. Samajwadi Party actually polled around 32% votes, around 10% more than what it had polled in 2017 and around 3% more than in 2012 when the party had secured an absolute majority. The RLD also polled 2.86% votes and its other allies PSP, SBSP, Janvadi Party, Apna Dal (K) and NCP 3% of the votes.
The paradox of the coalition polling around 38% of the votes and yet not being able to convert its vote share into seats is explained partly by the first-past-the-post system. But did other things also go wrong for the Samajwadi Party?
Samajwadi Party leaders have been bitterly complaining about the Election Commission failing to provide a level playing ground, vote stealing and bogus postal ballots as the primary reasons behind these results. “We ran a good campaign, we touched issues that were close to people’s heart; we promised better governance and received tremendous popular response”, recalls SP leader Naresh Uttam while claiming that in normal circumstances the party should have won. He also alleged that the ruling party is running democracy to the ground.
But history only remembers the victors. The victory of BJP in UP is the reality. While the Election Commission's role certainly needs scrutiny, Samajwadi Party should also look for where it failed to capitalise on the opportunity when all the conditions were in its favour.
Samajwadi Party and its leader Akhilesh Yadav did misread the importance of Congress and BSP in the state, writing off both. He committed the same mistake he did in 2017 i.e. turning the state election into a bipolar contest. His mathematics was simple. Muslims plus Yadav, Jat, Gujar, Maurya, Pasi, Kurmi and some other OBC castes will consolidate behind him and he will touch the majority mark. In the process he appears to have alienated both forward caste and Dalit voters.
While BSP and its chief Mayawati ran a low decibel campaign, Samajwadi Party sold the narrative that BSP no longer mattered. The results have proved him wrong. BSP and SP votes together have actually exceeded the votes polled by the BJP.
Dalit voters were pushed towards the BJP as they felt threatened at the prospect of the return of Yadav, Jat, Gujar, and Kurmi voters to power, the social groups which historically oppressed them. Mayawati also left no effort to ruin the prospects of the Samajwadi Party. The BSP offered ticket to all those denied an opportunity to contest by the Samajwadi Party. At least 50 such candidates, mostly Muslim and Yadavs, not only proved to be spoilers for SP but also helped BJP to close the gaps it needed to divert people’s anger.
In our earlier assessments we raised discrepancies in electoral rolls, the issue of postal ballots, the role of machinery and the importance of Dalit voters in the state. Many of those apprehensions have come true.
But this mandate is not an end of the road for opposition parties. It has opened the doors for new possibilities. They can actually rejoice at the return of so many voters they had lost to BJP in 2014, 2017 and 2019 elections. It is time to build a new momentum from here. The opposition parties should not lose time in setting their own house in order, get their voters enrolled on voters' lists and cobble new social alliances.
If the voters were indeed lured by freebies, they cannot be kept bound for long after the freebies are stopped. Mayawati is now a spent force without Kanshiram. The 12.9% votes BSP has garnered are possibly the support that candidates from other parties brought with them. It will not be easy for BSP to seek votes not to win but to defeat others.
Both Congress and the SP have an opportunity to tap the leaderless Dalit constituency. But the alliance shouldn’t be limited to poll arrangements, rather fear in the mind of Dalit voters regarding the atrocities of OBCs should be removed. There should be efforts to bring various social groups together as it was done post-2013 riots in Muzaffarnagar.
If it starts soon, then better results can still be expected in 2024 general elections. This to me is the biggest takeaway from the 2022 UP Elections.
(The writer is an independent journalist. Views are personal)
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Published: 11 Mar 2022, 11:00 AM